In most mammals, the energetic costs of lactation significantly increase a female's daily energy requirements. Previous research indicates that such energetic costs may be met through changes in increased food consumption ranging from around 35 % to 150 %. In this paper, changes in food intake during lactation are measured in the red panda (Ailurus fulgens), a species of the order Carnivora which possesses a digestive system suited for a carnivorous diet but yet exclusively feeds on bamboo.

Four feeding characteristics were studied: duration of feeding bouts, number of bamboo leaves consumed per mouthful, number of bamboo leaves consumed per minute, and interval between mouthfuls of bamboo. In three lactating females, three of four feeding behaviors significantly increased up to 200 % above the rate observed during non-lactation. Males showed no change in feeding behavior during the same reproductive months with identical available foods. Red pandas appear to suffer a more severe energetic cost during lactation (at least with respect to food consumption) than other mammals previously studied. This may relate to their inefficient digestive capacity to process a herbivorous diet of bamboo. The data presented here suggest that general discussions of the relative costs of reproduction and in turn parental investment should include a female's relative digestive efficiency during stressful reproductive periods.